Mental health counselors provide help to people facing anxiety, depression, and issues generally related to some response on their part with which they are unhappy. They come to counselors for assistance in sorting out the reasons for their issues. As such, mental health counselors are required to apply certain characteristics and behaviors to sessions that forward that goal. Often, however, counselors drift from what is acceptable and inject behaviors into sessions that may be either counterproductive or inappropriate. The case study of Bill and his anger issues offers an opportunity to self-analyze our knowledge of both the positive and negative characteristics and behaviors at play and to reinforce what a counselor may be doing right as well as where they are failing to meet accepted criteria in these areas.
The effective characteristics of counseling are not simply a descending list. Their earmarks can be identified in basic areas of identification of negative thinking patterns; helping clients to recognize behaviors holding them back; suggesting ways such the use of effective communication, and recognition of barriers to that forward progress. Chapter 5 in the text reinforces that effective characteristics in any session come through when counselors have a firm grip on who they are in relationship to those they are trying to help, and that counseling behaviors will inevitably flow from those perspectives.
The counselor, sensing from Steve’s responses a willingness to talk about his own upbringing, encourages this. He talks about his mother who demanded perfection, and takes this to the logical conclusion that perhaps it might be the source of his anger with his children when they don’t do everything just right. The counselor is empathetic, responding, “Sounds like a lot
of pressure for a little kid.” As a positive effective characteristic, the counselor is not only showing empathy, which according to Wilson is “a key to success in relationship building” between client and therapist (Wilson, Voices from the Field, 5.3), but is satisfying the Levitt (2001) general criteria that the counselor convey the role of an active empathetic listener involved and giving the person unconditional attention.
Moving from the discussion of his childhood, the counselor eases Bill into a self-assessment of what he means by “perfect,” a necessary realization that may be at the root of his anger problem. She recognizes that Bill may be guarded regarding this issue, but because she has established empathy with his childhood of needed perfect, she now encourages him to expand on this in an effort “ to [get to] the clinical truth” and past any guards the client may throw up against to hinder “the development of the counseling process. (Voices from the field 5.6)
Certain characteristics of counseling may come across as counter to the overall benefit of the client and the positive effect the counselor may exert in the sessions. Such ineffective characteristics and behaviors, such as those discussed below, can mean the difference between successful outcomes of both individual sessions and the ultimate outcomes at the end of counseling.
The counselor gets off track at one point by changing the focus of the discussion from his anger issue to the irrelevant issue of whether or not his wife has ever been in counseling. It is obvious that this annoys Bill and says he wants the focus to be on him. In this instance the counselor has deviated from what Cooper (2015) citing Ivey and Ivey that an important counseling microskill is to maintain an individual focus, at least initially. (203) The counselor here sounds manipulative when she first suggests his wife should come in, then retracts the idea, admits being wrong to suggest it, and then proceeds to verbalize and read things into his feelings. This behavior tends to reinforce that “Many beginning counselors tend to forget to work to develop the counseling relationship choosing instead to really try to “fix” the client’s problem often in an attempt to reassure a sense of counseling competence.” (Voices from the Field, 5.5)
An obvious ineffective characteristic involves the counselor’s failure to have the client sign the necessary consent form to take part in the session. He or she mentions it almost as an aside at the end of the session. This omission may likely affect the progress of the sessions, since a client, who may be expected to sign such a form for each session, may feel he is not speaking under condition of anonymity. “Professional counselors are ethically bound to provide clients with informed consent (American Counseling Association, 2014, 7).
Overall, the counselor has succeeded in getting the client to discuss an important aspect of his root anger problem,that is his childhood striving for perfect at the hands of his mother, and the realization that he is imposing these same attitudes and obsessions onto his own children. He has not as yet made the psychic connection between this reality and his overall anger issues, but he has reached “a good place to start.” Regarding the negative aspects of ineffectual characteristics employed by the counselor, it seems he is happy with his progress nonetheless and determined to come back and work some more. The suggestion that his wife attend sessions, however, is still fixed although the counselor flip flopped on that suggestion. However, the counselor rectifies the flip flop of before and reaffirms the notion that it is just “you and me.” Overall, despite the counseling faux pas, the session has provided a good beginning.